Why I Cannot Be a Patriot

By Vicky Melkonyan

Guest Contributor

How does one define the feeling of belonging to a place? I guess I will never know because I have never felt it myself. I was born in Armenia. Both my parents are Armenian. Our family can be described as a typical Armenian family that has traditional values and where everyone has their specific role – cook and take care of kids vs. work and make money. Why, then, you might ask, I never felt any affection toward my country, any pride for being an Armenian or why I simply never felt like I belong. The answer lies in multiple aspects of my own perception of the country.

Most of my negativity, however, derives from the things I know Armenians lived through when they came here from Baku. There were a lot of Armenians living in Baku during the Soviet Union era. Then came 1988 and everything turned upside down for all of them. I will not go into detail describing the horrors they witnessed in Baku and Sumgait. They fled saving their lives – some to Europe, some to Russia or the US and a large number of them came to Armenia.

My own mother lived in Baku with her large family. They were forced to leave the house they had built with their own hands. They lost all the money that had in the bank. After all that, however, neither the government of Armenia nor the people living here tried to help them, comfort them or compensate their losses in any way. On the contrary, things became much worse.

They came to live here in a village dormitory that used to be a musical school. They slept on bare floors – nine people sleeping in one tiny room, starving, having only a piece of bread per person. It was not just my mother’s family, there were approximately 30-35 families cramped into the school building. They had to fight among each other to buy a bucket of drinking water that a guy would bring in his truck. They had to fight over the oven to determine whose turn it is to bake bread because there was electricity for only so many hours. Honestly, I cannot imagine myself not going completely crazy after losing my home and everything I was used to and having to literally fight to survive.

If things seem very grim and hopeless to you by now, I suggest you pull up a chair. The rest is even worse. The attitude and treatment the refugees encountered from Armenians that lived here was unbearable. They have been segregated, called “Turks” and harassed multiple times for having lived among Muslims. That is ironic because at the same time there were hundreds of Azeri living in Armenia, especially in Ararat province. Women that came from Baku were branded and treated as prostitutes. My mother herself has been harassed by inappropriate comments from Armenian men. Above all, Armenians from Baku were regarded as a burden for Armenians living here. They were told many times that it would have been better if they stayed in Baku and were killed than came here to “eat our bread”.

At the same time the world answered with all kinds of help – food, clothing, etc. People who lived in Armenia saw an opportunity to benefit from. The refugees were supposed to get a box with different kinds of food per person. However, the Armenians in charge of distribution decided that they can give out a box per family instead and keep the rest to themselves. Certain kinds of food such as soy beans and rice, which were again intended for the refugees, Armenians gave to their pigs while the families from Baku starved. I was very young then, but I still remember my great-grandma telling me how every time she would give her piece of bread to her grandkids because she knew they were hungry.

Some of the people who came from Baku went mad, some committed suicide because why live if you have lost everything that was dear to your heart and on top of that you are rejected by your “home country”. Of course, some have moved on, they have found ways to build a new life and become successful. But can they ever forget the things they saw, the things they experienced? Can they ever forgive?

For some reason, to this day unclear to me, Armenians living in Armenia have been heavily prejudiced toward Armenians who fled from Azerbaijan. Were they not human? I will never understand why these people were treated so poorly in the one country to which they “belong”. The truth is that even today things have not changed much. I have heard people calling others “Turk” only because one of their parents has lived in Baku. I guess that makes me a “Turk” because my mother and her whole family lived there for a long time.

How then do you expect me to be a patriot? How do you expect me to love Armenians and be proud of “belonging” to this country? Knowing the truth about the past of so many Armenians has definitely made my life a lot more complicated. I find it impossible to forgive such intolerance and unfairness. I hear people brag about how Armenia is so wonderful and Armenians are so smart and etc. The fact remains that Armenians were not able to accept Armenians from a different country, let alone support them and encourage them. For the people who overnight lost everything they had ever known life has moved on but they never found their place in this society.

Evans’ ‘You Must Believe in Spring,’ or How I Fought Depression

By Gayane Ghazaryan

Guest Contributor

I am running out of breath. My heart is pounding faster and faster. My entire body is trembling with pain. I’m afraid I will die any minute now… I started having my first panic attacks in December 2017, right at the beginning of my winter break when a series of traumatic events put me in a psychological state known as clinical depression. However, what I was experiencing differed drastically from how people around me perceived this mental disorder, and because of that very reason, I had to fight against the aftermaths of the trauma feeling almost entirely left alone.

While most of my friends and family thought what I was going through was just a period of sadness, I was sure there was more to that as my mental/emotional state was in a terrible mess. Some of my friends kept telling that “things would get better,” and I just needed to “stop stressing out, and have fun instead.” But no, things wouldn’t get better for the next four months.

I deactivated all my social media and tried to avoid people as much as I could. With each new dawn, my own existence felt like an unbearable burden I had to carry on my shoulders. I would often think of death, wishing that something would actually happen to me and I would no longer have to fight against the pain. Even the simplest action of breathing felt like an unachievable task, especially at nights when I would have crying spells, almost suffocating. My emotional state directly affected my physical health. In the mornings I felt intense fatigue and dizziness as if I would pass out any minute.

December 2017 was also the time when I found out I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), the symptoms of which I have been showing ever since I was 12. For nine years I lived with intrusive thoughts and never-ending obsessions, and yet never said a word as I was afraid people would think I had gone insane. However, I couldn’t keep all of that inside me anymore, as my compulsions had reached to the point where they prevented me from doing any work. I was concerned and terrified both because of my panic attacks as well as to find out I had a mental disorder that wasn’t easy to treat.

It took me a whole week to talk about my condition to my parents. I was concerned that they would get worried after learning it all as if I was going to tell them I had cancer or some kind of heart disease because having a mental disorder felt equally important to me. But to my surprise, they didn’t take my words seriously and thought I was just exaggerating things. They would tie the arbitrary pains I had to physical health problems and encourage me to see a doctor, but never a psychologist or a psychiatrist. My father would even get frustrated when I openly talked about my OCD symptoms. “Don’t tell such things to other people. They will think you have problems which you don’t,” he often told me. According to him, and most people in Armenia, it is shameful to voice about mental health issues.

I hoped that with the start of the new semester, I’d feel better. I hoped that the overwhelming amount of readings and essays would distract me from the inner chaos that was devouring me. But things got worse! Most of the time I wasn’t able to get myself out of bed. And when I did manage to get to university, I felt as if I had to play a part, concealing all the horrible things that were happening inside my brain. I tried hard to stay focused during classes, and sometimes it worked, but the home assignments were a real struggle. I would read something three or four times and still not comprehend what I was supposed to know or do. The hallways and the cafeteria were the definition of hell to me. I was constantly trying to avoid people, including friends. All the conversations and the laughter were only testing the limits of my irritability.

In February, I made a couple of attempts to see the counselor at university, but I failed. I wasn’t ready to be vocal about the things that put me in that condition. I didn’t want to open up to a stranger. So I found an escape in something new to me, something that didn’t have to involve words. I found an escape in dance. After signing up for contemporary dance classes, I soon discovered the healing effect that it had on me. Losing myself in harmonious melodies combined with graceful movements, I paved the way for the inner peace I so desperately needed. I was making progress, and it made me both hopeful and proud of myself.

Spring became the metaphor for hope to me.

Spring became the metaphor of hope to me. I kept repeating the words from Bill Evans’ famous album, “You Must Believe in Spring.” The more I convinced myself that spring winds and blossoming flowers would bring harmony to me, the faster the seeds of hope grew within me. I knew these seeds would blossom and put healing petals on all the scars. Indeed, by the end of March, I had made significant progress. Then in April, with the start of the movement that would later be known as “Velvet Revolution,” I set myself a goal to get rid of all the remaining negativity. I joined the rally from the very first day and was in the streets almost every day, from morning till night. To me, the Revolution wasn’t only about “rejecting Serj.” It was about fighting against the things that made me vulnerable, frightened and fragile both physically and emotionally.

Although I still struggle with OCD and can’t make my mind to take medication regularly because I’m afraid to become dependent on it, I succeeded in my battle against depression. What I learned is that life can slap you in the face, slap you really hard, but it doesn’t mean you should give up easily. I learned that people might not always be supportive, and that’s not because they do not care, but because they haven’t been in your shoes and lack awareness. I learned that there are people who have much more serious problems and do not have the determination or resources to cope with them. I once again realized there are millions of things to be grateful for, fight and live for.

Revolution diary

April 16, 2018 | So what?

It’s a peaceful, quiet Sunday, 5:30 pm. I’m downtown, near Cascade, almost finishing a photo shoot for a friend’s gallery. I’m impatient to join Pashinyan’s daily rally. I get a call from my friend Anush, pack my camera and walk to the France square to meet her. What I see is about 100 people, several tents and a stage-like construction. Somehow I feel very proud to be there. The song “My Step” is playing around all the time. It’s a bit cold. Everyone is calm and relaxed. Disappointed by the number of people and the calmness of the protestants,  I decide to walk down Mashtots street to meet Anush, hoping that by 6 pm more people will join. We greet each other and walk back the France Square. Now there are around 200 people. But who makes a revolution with 200 people?  We both are very indifferent. We try to act as caring citizens but actually we do not understand what is the aim of the protest. The rally starts. We find a comfortable place and stand next to two old women. Some old guy takes the microphone and starts talking about Armenian stones, how profitable could those be and how bad is our government. We are listening to a boring,  and pathetic speech very much like those in Soviet Union. The old women curse the government after every second word. They are funny though and seem to be more excited than all the young protesters out there. It is getting colder. Pashinyan has not spoken yet. We become nervous. It’s time to go home.

I barely find a marshrutka to get home. After a huge disappointment, I blame Pashinyan for blocking the streets and justify myself for leaving the rally, “At least you came, Arpine, you should not feel guilty anymore.”

But I keep asking this question, “ Dear Mr.Pashinyan, you have blocked the Freedom square, and you have been protesting for several days, so what? ” An hour later, he calls for massive civil disobedience starting the next day, April 17.


April 17, 2018 | Let’s do it

9 am, morning, I’m still on my bed. My hand automatically goes to my phone, I barely open eyes and my Facebook feed is filled with information about protests. The headlines say “Students have started mass protests, the streets are blocked..”

The whole city is shut down. All the streets that lead to the city center are blocked.  I decide to join the students, and there is only one way to get into the Yerevan State University. I run to the bus stop, catch a marshrutka and drive to the upper part of the Cascade. As always, the marshrutka is packed. I turn on Azatutyun live and try to catch up with the events.  The driver also turns on the radio. The whole marshrutka discusses the student protest. It seems like people are against it.

“These poor kids do not understand that they cannot change anything,” an old lady says, “it’s useless, this government will never change.” I want to argue, but I shout myself: it’s not the right time. Anush calls me. She is there. Hundreds of students are there.I get out of the marshrutka but immediately stop. God, Ararat is so beautiful. Even our mount wants us to fight for a better country. I decide to capture it.

Ararat on April 17, 2018

Anush informs me that thousands of students are near the Yerevan State University. She’s very excited. While I run down the  Cascade stairs, I try to catch up with live stream. 10 minutes later I’m there, with students. It’s hard to believe there are so many of us. I hug Anush tightly. I look at her eyes and say, “I’m starting a journey with you, and I’ll be with you till the very end.” She smiles. We start marching and calling people to join us. There is no such thing as an AUA student, Yerevan State University Student, or Conservatory Student. There is independence generation fighting for a better country. Independence generation wants to be independent. Hour by hour more students join. We do not stop marching. Women look from their balconies and cry. They seem to be very proud.

Thousands of students near Medical University on April 17, 2018 

Hours later, we join Nikol Pashinyan. He leads us to the National Assembly. The Baghramyan street is blocked. The riot police are on the other side. And then there is an explosion…I see how grenades fall on people. My heart beats faster. Some of my friends start panicking. The second grenade exploits. Seconds later we see wounded people and blood. Ambulance sirens do not stop. I’m scared. Anush starts crying: she’s emotionally devastated. I don’t know what to do. Some of EVN report staff is right there, near the barricades. My parents keep calling me. There is chaos around.  I do not feel anything. I somehow get home. I am psychologically devastated. My aunt calls me and starts blaming for being a protestor. I can hardly speak. My tears flow down my face. I start shouting at her. I cannot stop crying. I feel so detached from her.  She is not my role model anymore. She does not believe in youth.


April 18-21 | I believe

My days start early. I don’t go to classes because I protest, and help EVN report to spread the English-language news. I don’t eat and sleep properly. There’s a massive rally at 7. Pashinyan speaks, and then thousands march through the city. And then we go home. This has become a daily routine. So many things happen at the same time. My friends and my professors are next to me. I doubt that Serzh Sargsyan will resign. But I believe in our generation. I believe Nikol Pashinyan and his vision. My country is facing a significant change, and I am proud to be a part of it. Emotions overflow me. Words cannot describe what I feel.

Revolution by generations | April 18, 2018 

Nikol Pashinyan and his wife resting after a long march throughout Yerevan on April 19, 2018


April 22,  2018 | Fear

It’s a rainy day. Nikol Pashinyan has been arrested. People do not stop protesting. It’s around 2 pm. I call Anush. We both cry on the two sides of the phone. We want to believe that everything will be fine, but we cannot. Our Roubina from EVN is wounded. I feel hatred towards our government. I do not want to live in this country…I cannot think, I cannot eat, I cannot drink. This chaos does not end.

There’s a big rally without Nikol. I walk down Komitas street. People have blocked the streets. A guy shouts, “ This is our people’s protests, and not Nikol’s, we will not stop protesting.” He gives me hope. It’s almost 7 pm. We don’t know what to think. Mr. Garbis joins us. There are thousands and thousands of people coming from different parts of the city. It’s unbelievable yet chaotic without Nikol. We don’t know what’s going on. I’m terrified. What’s next?

April 22, a rally without Nikol Pashinyan


April 23, 2018 | Welcome to the world, New Armenia

Finally, I decide to go to class. The streets city are blocked, and the only way to get to the university is to walk. I take my camera, and photograph people in the crossroads. Everyone seems to be strong beside the fact that Pashinyan and his supporters are arrested. I sit in the back, my phone on my desk, my eyes following the live stream. Regular rallies. Streets are shut down; people are protesting. Nikol Pashinyan is still arrested. No significant news. We are somehow very indifferent. AUA is very quiet. We go eat at the cafeteria, I look at my phone and shout, “Guys, Pashinyan is free.” Anush and I forget everything and run down AUA stairs. We look at police standing behind the barricades and shout, “Pashinyan is free, people, Pashinyan is free…” We do not feel ashamed. The policemen start packing their weapons. We smile. They smile back. We wave. They wave back. “Dears, it’s the end, Sargsyan has resigned, believe me,” a young policeman says. It’s hard to believe. There are not official news. But we smile. And they smile. We decide to walk down Demirdjian street: Pashinyan has promised to greet people at the Republic Square. Dozens of buses with police drive down that street. They all smile. There are no barricades anymore. From time to time Anush shouts, “Pashinyan is free, Pashinyan is free.” People look at us and smile.

We see our friends on our way. It seems that there are little invisible drops of joy in the air that make everyone smile. We proudly walk to the republic square. People hug the police. I cannot hide my tears. I take out my camera and try to freeze the moment. Everybody keeps talking about Sargsyan’s resignation, but there is not an official announcement. The Internet is not working. We decide to walk to Mashtots park. On our way, the taxi drivers look at us and say, “Serzh Sargsyan has resigned, it’s official, երեխեք ջան.” But still, we do not want to believe. We reach Mashtots park, the internet starts working properly, and we eventually see the official announcement on Facebook. Serzh Sargsyan has resigned,  Serzh Sargsyan has resigned, Serzh Sargsyan has resigned. I keep repeating it as it’s hard to believe. The world freezes at that moment. I cannot stop smiling. I want to stop the time. And we run. We run to be with people; we run to hug everyone on the street, we run to celebrate our victory. We run to say, “Welcome to the world, New Armenia.”

April 23 :They finally smile 


April 15, 2018 | The beginning

Tired after the play rehearsal, me and Anush were enjoying the spring sun and a soft breeze at Mashtots park. We have not talked for months. Something was wrong, and that was the day to understand what was going on in our friendship finally. We were supposed to have a long and tense conversation. And we finally had it. But April 15 was never exceptional for that conversation.

It was that crucial day when we decided to join Nikol Pashinyan and his supporters on French Square. It was the beginning of a journey full of love, hatred,  fear, joy, disappointment and everlasting hope. It was the beginning of a journey full of doubts. It was the day we realized our importance as citizens. It was the day we felt responsible for our country and our future. It was the day we decided to stood up for our rights and fight for our parent’s stolen youth. It was the day we decided to spare no effort for a better Armenia…It was the day we believed.

*All photos were taken by me.

Young Talents in Armenia Think That They Have “Brighter” Futures, “Greater” Chances, and “More” Success “Outside”

Apraham Tameian

 

One of the many things that Armenia is famous for, besides “Lavash”, the ultimate version of bread, is actually music. The question is, to what extent it is famous? Many people, myself included, believe that the word famous resides in Armenia itself, in a simpler way, Armenia’s majority of music is famous in Armenia. Therefore, young musicians who have dreams of becoming internationally known and famous, get their dreams crushed because of Armenia’s status, regarding fame in music. What I’m saying is that young musicians do not believe in the country they produce their music in, they don’t believe that Armenia can be a station towards international fame.

Why? Because it is stereotypically spread that “famous” Armenian singers and musicians in Armenia, usually have strong connection with people of influence in the country, hence, they get their music produced, recorded, and promoted. Therefore, young musicians lose their faiths in becoming good artists, so they stand still without taking any action, without doing anything. They write and compose their own songs with a mere instrument, perform some of them in pubs and cafes, and delete the remaining ones.

Moving forward, maybe the previous points were right, the points indicating that “famous” singers who maybe lack some talent, get famous thanks to their connections in the country. However, what confuses me in this era, is that although we are in an era that everything depends on the internet, the social media, and other forms of media, people still complain about the corruption in Armenia, and blame it for their lateness in becoming known and getting their music promoted. Many young musicians compare themselves with musicians from outside the country, specifically, with musicians from the United States. They state that musicians of other countries, or American musicians, have more chances to get their talents and names heard and known. But what I believe in? it’s totally wrong, there’s corruption in every corner of the world, even in the United States and in its music industry. Even there, one has to have strong connections. But what’s wrong about that? Why having strong connections as a pillar to one’s career is considered to be wrong and unethical? Even those who have “weaker” connections in the United States, they still get their music spread worldwide, and become well known even internationally. The answer is – the internet, specifically, the social media.

Musicians in the United States write and compose their songs, sometimes they collaborate with other musicians, and start to promote their songs, their stories, their cultures, and their emotions. Nowadays, the internet is offering us a lot of options that we can use. You can record your music with a camera, upload it on the internet, boost it with social media’s platforms’ advertising options, and boom, your music is watched by over 20,000 people minimum. I’m not bringing numbers from my head, you can go check it out on Google.

It’s so simple right? Anyone who reads this blog might say that I am making simple and naive points. I know it’s so simple. But what’s confusing, is the fact that young musicians in Armenia, knowing about all these, do not move their butts to start doing the necessary steps to become the version of the musician they want to be. They just love complaining the country, the monopoly and corruption in the music industry. They just want to hide their talents that suck or are just so good, they just want to hide their laziness behind the county’s flaws, and put on the “victim” masks. I know, maybe as a writer I should not depend on stereotypical things, but I believe that this aspect of laziness is in people’s genes and flaws alongside the blood in their veins. Just like it’s in my genes and mixed with my blood. Plot twist! I was one of those guys. What I did to evolve was just reading some blogs written by musicians who started from the bottom who live outside, improved my talent, Googl(ed) my questions about how to find the starting points. And I am now uploading my music to the Internet, with high hopes and confidence to become an international artist. People should just stop loving the role of the victim and not doing anything. Upload your music, if no one talks about it, upload your other songs and stories, people will hear it, people like to be entertained, people love to hear stories that might link to their motions.

What are you waiting for?

The Devil’s Angle

Artyom Matevosyan

Guest Contributor:

I always thought that serious troubles will never happen to me. For some unknown reason my subconsciousness could not picture something bad happening to me or the ones I love. Every day I watched terrifying car accidents, fires, robberies on the internet and obscurely thought that I am insured from them. But life sometimes used to set me on the verge of trouble, leaving just a step from falling apart, especially when I was in the Army. Three years ago, on November, I finally got to understand that trouble may actually happen to me.

The army used to set my life in danger quite frequently, though I wasn’t noticing it. There were quite a lot of incidents where I had bullets flying towards my side, poisonous snakes, spiders and scorpions hovering around me while I was asleep, mortars and tanks shelling half a mile away from me and me standing there without means of protection. The incidents joined my library of horror stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life. Yet, the worst part is, before that day, I never realized how serious that situations could get.

It was only in the last couple of months of my service that I started thinking about this, because I was on the very edge of an incident that would not only take my freedom, but also lives of tens of other soldiers. I was a member of the fire director center in a mortar battery. We were in an abandoned area, somewhere near the Azerbaijani border, with a casual military exercise routine. Typically, every such exercise has several supervisors, who examine the process and give grades according to set measures. This one had too, but we didn’t care that much, since we were trained and confident.

It was a mellow November day, for some reason we weren’t dying from cold on the slopes of the mountains. Moreover, the sun was literally blinding our eyes, so the only thing we could do was to recall a funny event and start giggling. It was our only way of getting out of any unpleasant situation back then. But as a rule, commanders would interrupt those conversations, apparently for something more important. That day, we recalled a story from the previous exercises. One of our tank gunners fell asleep 30 minutes before the exercises would start and when the commander shouted, “Forward” he woke up and subconsciously pressed the fire button. As the tank gun was on its initial position, it wasn’t targeted towards the battlefield so the shell took an arbitrary direction and fell in front of an entrenchment, where the rest of our soldiers were. Fortunately, it caused only some small scratches and didn’t injure anybody seriously. The guy instantly became an antihero and everybody started mocking him for his inattentiveness. So did we. While we are busy laughing, the officers commanded us to get in our positions and be ready for fire.

Here we are, on our positions, ready to kill the imaginary enemy. On my mind I see the images of our successful exercises, where we, yet again literally blew the target up, got our rewards and are ready to go home. We get the numbers, calculate the angle, and the result is azimuth 6.66 (approximately 40 degree). In Armenia, superstition says 6 is the number of devil, so something bad is going to happen. I don’t believe in this, but the officer next to me does, so he is terrified. But for a moment I got scared too. With my approximate calculations, the number shouldn’t have been higher than 6.0 and to get a sense of the seriousness of the issue, a miscalculation of azimuth 0.6 in a kilometer distance is equal to a total deviation of the shell for 1.5 kilometers. So the shell would have simply fallen 1.5 kilometers away from the calculated target and we would get a zero.

The head of the fire director center begs the supervising colonel not to fire the mortar and pick another target. The supervisor commands to stop being superstitious and continue the mission. My fears grow stronger, since I know we are going to have problems, but only for the poor grades. The command goes, “FIRE,” and the firer pulls the thread to launch the shell. All of us sit down on the entrenchment, close our ears and anticipate an explosion. But nothing happens.

We rise up and see that the firer tore the worn-out thread and the missile couldn’t get launched. While the supervisor and the soldiers try to attach the wire, something in me tells that I need to recalculate the angle: maybe this is the case when life put me on the verge of a trouble (though the officer next to me would be punished much worse, since the big part of the calculations are for him to do). I do the calculations again, this time for the officer too, and the number turns out to be 5.66. We try to hide the new result from the supervisor in order not to fail the mission and continue with the new number. We pass the exercise with a good grade, cheer up and finally have some rest. Then I see the officer responsible for the calculations frozen next to the desk of calculations, with a map vibrating in his hands.

I approach him and merely from what I managed to read on his map drawings, the shell with the azimuth 6.66 would have fallen directly to the area where our battalion of tanks was. It could potentially kill or severely injure dozens of my friends. Perhaps it would send the officer to jail, me to a disciplinary battalion, which would prolong my service for another 3 or 4 months. But what made me freeze for a second and secretly cry was that it could kill my friends. Technically, not because of my error, but still, just the plain picture of having someone killed because of an error that you were arrogantly laughing at half an hour ago, was terrifying.

From that point on, I started to recreate the scenarios of the library of my horror stories and actually realized that they could take a totally other direction. It would affect my destiny and the destiny of the ones I love. This is by no means about appreciating life or the luck or the superstition that made me reconsider the calculations, but rather about how life could take a turnover in an instant and I would be nowhere near where I am now. There were hundreds of cases like this, but in this specific one, my friends who were in the azimuth 6.66 geolocation would have other destinies too.